One player that probably didn’t get far enough coverage from me throughout the 2016 season was Anthony Rendon. I was always aware of the kind of season that he was having, but there just never seemed to be a spot to fit something in about him without it seeming clunky. But with Rendon taking home National League Comeback Player of the Year honors, courtesy of MLB.com writers, now seems like as good a time as any to examine the year that he had.
Rendon’s 2015 campaign went down as more of a wash than anything. Not because there was any particular dropoff in performance or glaring mechanical error, but because he only appeared in 80 games due to injury. Rendon fought off an MCL injury in spring training of ’15, followed by the always-terrifying and power-sapping oblique injury, as well as a quad injury that hampered him late in the season. Our goal here is to look at how he was able to re-establish himself as an offensive threat with a healthy 2016, in addition to examining how he stacked up against his counterparts at the third base position.
Obviously we’re looking at two vastly different samples, just based off of the number of plate appearances brought on by a healthy 2016. But if there’s an area where the differences in output really stand out, it’s in regard to the power. His OPS and ISO represent the two most significant disparities, while the other trends remain predominantly the same as far as his approach and ability to reach base are concerned. Just to add on to that point, his contact rate was extremely similar between the two seasons, with an 85.8 mark in 2015 followed by a figure of 84.9% in this past season. So if we’re talking about Anthony Rendon as a “comeback” player, it’s specifically true in regard to the power side of things.
Rendon has never been known as a huge power guy, but that ISO indicates his ability to hit for extra bases in a general sense. He’s never been a huge ISO guy, with a .159 mark for his career, but that’s a significant dip in the figure that he experienced in 2015. Furthermore, just his ability to make hard contact suffered in 2015. His Hard% dipped from 37.8% in 2014 to just 32.7% in 2015, followed by a jump back up to 36.5% in 2016. Obviously when you’re dealing with nagging injuries as a whole, the power is going to be the first thing to be sapped. That’s especially true of an oblique injury. But Rendon was able to recover to the tune of 20 home runs (five in 2015), 38 doubles (16 in 2015), and a pair of triples (of which he did not notch any in 2015).
Here’s that ISO aspect presented in visual form:
Here’s the past two years in the OPS category:
The difference isn’t quite as clear as it is on the ISO side because he was still able to reach base at a strong clip in 2015, even if the power wasn’t there. But if we’re talking about Anthony Rendon: NL Comeback Player of the Year, this is what we’re talking about. He was still able to maintain the same approach, strikeout and walk at just about the same rate, and reach base at a very similar clip to his career norms. But a healthy 2016 has re-established Rendon as a dangerous bat, capable of inflicting damage with a significant improvement, across the board, in those power metrics.
Another quick way to lend some context to Rendon being a “comeback player” is how he stacks up against his fellow third basemen. These are those 2015 numbers with Rendon’s rank among the 34 third sackers that registered at least 350 plate appearances that season:
This probably doesn’t provide anything too surprising. Rendon ranked well in his ability to draw a walk and to reach base overall. But he suffered in the categories where being at full strength would have aided him: average, on-base plus slugging, isolated slugging.
Conversely, here is how Rendon stacked up against that group in 2016, with the same 350 plate appearances serving as the qualifier just for the sake of the number of individuals (which also stands at 34) present in the rankings:
One additional figure to toss in here: Rendon’s Off rating in 2015 was -5.0, which ranked 27th among the 34 folks at 3B with at least 350 PAs. That figure jumped up to 12.4 in 2016, which ranked 13th in that same group.
It’s not that we’re discussing Anthony Rendon as an elite offensive performer at the third base position. However, with his 2016 season, he definitely reasserted himself as someone in that next tier. While he doesn’t provide huge power numbers, the fact that he was able to begin to make hard contact on a more regular basis, while experiencing significant jumps in the third base rankings in regard to those power numbers certainly helps to have him serve as one of the more valuable entities at that spot.
In a general health sense, Rendon certainly represents a “comeback” player type; he went from just 80 games in 2015 to 156 in 2016. But in the truest sense, where Rendon was legitimately a comeback player was just in his strength and contact types at the plate. It obviously helps when your oblique and nagging quad injuries aren’t sapping your power. The important thing for the player, and for the Washington Nationals, is that that’s where we saw the real “comeback” for Rendon this last year.